Today’s column draws, as always (except when I’m making stuff up), on true life.
A friend at a London law firm wanted to meet a senior executive at my company. I asked the executive if he cared to join my friend and me for lunch. I naturally placed no pressure on the exec: “I’m happy to have lunch with this guy alone, or I’m happy to set up something for the three of us. What do you prefer?”
Somewhat to my surprise, the exec accepted the lunch date. I told my friend. And my buddy promptly sent an invitation for the appointed date and time scheduling lunch in a conference room at his law firm, halfway across London from our corporate offices.
Ed. note: Welcome to the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories, a recurring feature that gives notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as information about their firms and themselves.
Don Lents is chair of Bryan Cave LLP. His practice focuses on M&A, corporate governance, and securities law, with particular emphasis upon multinational and domestic mergers. He has been an adjunct professor at the Washington University Law School. He received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard.
Client service. The heartbeat of Biglaw. The area where every firm has to improve. Perpetually. Biglaw hamsters in overdrive. All to make the clients happy. Sit back and admire your Biglaw firm’s willingness to go the “extra mile” by listening to its clients. We might even see a client paraded before our partners once a year. (See my column on improving partner meetings by having guest appearances from clients.)
We are taught happy clients are well-paying clients. And clients that will refer their dissatisfied colleagues at other companies to experience our brand of Biglaw magic. We love clients. Almost as much as the consultants do on House of Lies, a show that provides outrageous, if funny, explorations of the client-service provider dynamic in modern-day America. (A fun business development-training program would involve watching a series of client-interactions from the show and learning from them. Better than listening to Rainmaker X pretend the reason for his multimillion-dollar book was not his maternal grandfather’s business dealings and connections.)
Truly thinking about client service can be all-consuming, especially for a younger partner like myself. No one is giving me clients. I have to fight for them in the marketplace. I love it, but it is difficult and you need patience.
But rather than focus on the process of developing clients, let’s discuss the art of “superpleasing” clients….
I’m a week late in reminiscing about 2012, but what can I say? I’m a step slow; you’ll just have to excuse me. These are some of the memorable things I heard during the last year.
First, an employment lawyer who recently moved from the United States to the United Kingdom:
“What’s the correct way to refer to black people over here?”
“In the United States, we refer to black people as ‘African-Americans.’ But you must have a different word for black people over here in England. Those people aren’t Americans, so they can’t be African-Americans.”
“We call blacks ‘blacks.’”
Second, a senior partner who serves on the executive committee of his Am Law 20 firm:
I’ve been living in London for almost three months now, so it’s time to declare myself a native. What do natives know about the City?
First: Dryer technology is apparently too tricky for this country. Listen, chaps: A dryer is supposed to dry your clothes.
These folks don’t get it. They’ve invented a washer/dryer thingy: You put your clothes in the machine, press some buttons, and the machine washes your clothes. Without moving your clothes, you then push some more buttons, and the machine spins and makes some noise. At the end of the so-called “dry cycle,” you remove your clothes from the washer/dryer thingy and hang your clothes in the living room to dry.
The United Kingdom is one of eight countries in the world that has successfully detonated a nuclear weapon, but these boys can’t crack dryer technology? What’s up with that?
Hey, maybe that’s an answer! Nuke the friggin’ clothes! They might come out a tad radioactive, but at least they’d be dry, and they wouldn’t be hanging in my living room. Or maybe you could import some dryers from the United States: We’ve got a bunch that work, and we could use the export business.
I told careful readers six months ago that I would soon be moving to London. I made the move on September 1, and here’s the local news:
Senior partners at major London law firms can’t afford to live!
Well, not quite: But senior partners at many major London law firms can’t afford to live in London itself.
I recently had lunch with — prepare yourself — a senior partner at a major London law firm. When I told him where I was now living, he said that it was nice that my commute would be so short:
“Twenty years ago, the senior partners at most big law firms lived in London. But today, unless you have inherited wealth or bought your home long ago, most senior partners at London firms can’t afford to live anywhere near the City. Partner pay just won’t cover the cost.”
As an expatriate American, this startled me: I’m confident there’s no American city where senior partners at major law firms can’t afford local real estate. But in London, this has the ring of truth to it. From an American’s perspective, everything in London is nauseatingly expensive (or “quite dear,” as the locals so quaintly put it). But the cost of housing goes far beyond “nauseatingly expensive”; it’s eye-poppingly, grab-your-chest-and-drop-to-the-ground, out of sight. It leaves partner pay in the dust. Here’s what I mean . . . .
Couldn't find a pic with the stately Dickson Poon banner.
Back in March, we received a tip that King’s College in London had received a huge gift to their law school and decided to rename the institution in the benefactor’s honor: Dickson Poon School of Law.
We didn’t write a full story at the time, because frankly I thought I was being trolled. I mean, Dick Poon Law? Dicks On Poon? Really? Come on. That’s like all of Britain trying to take the piss out of me.
But it is true. King’s College changed the name of their law school after a £20m donation from Dickson Poon, who is a philanthropist and the owner of Harvey Nichols (aka “Harvey Nicks”).
Now, while making a bunch of Poon jokes has a tang of immaturity, it appears even King’s College is sensitive to plastering Poon all across the diplomas of its new graduates.
The school sent out a very interesting letter trying to calm new students, reassuring them that the school’s new name wouldn’t besmirch their résumés for the rest of their lives….
Partner departures from the fast-sinking Dewey & LeBoeuf have reached a point where it’s difficult to track them in real time. We’ll focus our coverage on the biggest defections. There are multiple other resources for monitoring all the moves, the latest being the Wall Street Journal’s interactive graphic. (Similar trackers are available from Am Law Daily and Thomson Reuters.)
Last week, an internal memo gave Dewey partners the green light to consider “alternative opportunities” with other law firms. Many partners have availed themselves of that permission, with dozens of partners leaving the firm since the memo’s issuance. According to Thomson Reuters, about 150 of Dewey’s 300 partners have resigned since the start of 2012.
And now one of Dewey’s leaders — the chair of the firm’s Global Litigation Department, and a member of the multi-partner Office of the Chairman — is departing. Where is he going?
As usual, various UPDATES — including news of another departure by a department head and Chairman’s Office member, and additional details of litigators on the move — after the jump.
Over the weekend, when it looked like lenders to Dewey & LeBoeuf might be willing to give the troubled law firm more time to sort out its finances, I observed that “LeBoeuf is not yet cooked.” But it now looks like my fairly charitable assessment was unduly, or maybe even wildly, optimistic.
Can you say “warm red center”? As we reported yesterday, another slew of Dewey partners — about eleven in all, including former chairs of the tax practice and the corporate finance practice — started heading for the exits.
And perhaps they’re doing so with the blessing of firm management. Check out what D&L is now telling its partners….
UPDATE (10:10 AM): Now with text of memo appended.
UPDATE (10:30 AM): Now with discussion of London office added.
UPDATE (11:10 AM): Now with comments from Martin Bienenstock, a member of the firm’s four-person “Office of the Chairman.”
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
Whether you’re fresh off the bar exam or hitting your stride after hanging a shingle a few years ago, one thing’s for certain: independent attorneys who start a solo or small-law practice live with a certain amount of stress.
Non-attorneys would think the stress comes from preparing for a big trial, deposing a hostile witness, or crafting the perfect contract for a picky client.
But that’s nothing compared to the constant, nagging, real-life kind, the kind you get from the day-to-day grind of being a law-abiding attorney.
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Additional information can be located on our website, at www.sgtlaw.com.